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Hellions of the Deep: The Development of American Torpedoes in World War II

4.4 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0271015088
ISBN-10: 027101508X
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Editorial Reviews


“The U.S. Navy's failure to provide its submarines with effective torpedoes was one of the great near disasters of the Second World War. Gannon offers us a finely crafted, thoroughly informative study of the failure and the successful technical effort to develop winning weapons for the fleet.”

—Harvey M. Sapolsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

About the Author

Robert Gannon is Associate Professor of English at Penn State University. His articles have appeared in Popular Science, Reader's Digest, Science Digest, Science and Mechanics, Audubon, Oceans, and many other popular and specialized publications.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penn State University Press (May 9, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 027101508X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0271015088
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,510,435 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mr. A. Davies on January 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book is an excellent reference source for anyone interested in the development of American torpedoes during WW2 and is highly recommended.

The reason for the four star rating is because the work contains some minor errors and is unclear in some more important areas. OK first the minor errors. Page 68 describes hydrogen peroxide as "H2O2O". Funny when I received my degree hydrogen peroxide was H2O2. Next the line drawing on page 42 illustrates what is known as a "steam" type torpedo and yet the illustration is labelled with an electric motor as being the propulsion unit even though the illustration contains no batteries. It does show the air and fuel flasks of a "steam" type torpedo and the description accompanying the drawing is consistent with a "steam" type torpedo. Actually, although small, the drawing shows what appears to be a turbine and bevel gear unit- again consistent with a "steam" type torpedo engine- even if they are labelled as an electric motor.

OK So much for the minor errors. I consider them unimportant as they in no way detract from the value of the book and any skilled reader can easily compensate.

The problem comes on page 48 where the Japanese "Long Lance" type 93 torpedo is described as being driven by "liquid hydrogen peroxide". Although not a US torpedo this book is so authoritative and well written that all its disclosures clearly carry weight. Given the state of the art in the 1930's I would tend to believe that compressed pure oxygen gas was used in the type 93(ie not H2O2) and indeed a number of web pages support this view. (search for yourself to check this out).

Unfortunately the author does not help matters as at page 135 he says "during the war the japanese skippers preferred the "oxygen" hydrogen peroxide torpedoes".
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Anyone with an interest in WWII submarine stories and history has read tales of the multitude of problems with US WW II torpedoes. They ran too deep, the new magnetic exploders didn't work (but then, neither did the British ones, the German ones, or the Japanese ones), and sometimes they would run in a circle and sink the submarine that fired the torpedo. Even the old WW I era contact exploders were troublesome.

But torpedoes were vital to the US war effort - for almost 2 years, only US subs could really attack the Japanese, especially their vital supply lines. Yet the torpedoes were faulty.

But it has been difficult to find out anymore about this subject until the publication of Hellions of the Deep. This book takes an detailed look at the development of US torpedoes, which are much more complicated devices than most people realize. A typical torpedo in WWII had over 3,000 parts.

The writing is a tad dry, and a few names of people who 'helped develop' (read hindered) the troublesome torpedoes are withheld, which is why I only gave it four stars. But overall, a valuable book to students of WW II naval history.
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Format: Hardcover
Silent Victory contains a fair amount of data regarding the torpedo problems experienced by the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet Submarine Force during the Second World War. This book goes into considerably more detail regarding the background to those problems and their solutions--both bureaucratic and engineering--and how U.S. torpedo technology literally moved two generations ahead during wartime.
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Format: Hardcover
Anyone interested in the Navy's Silent Service during World War II will eventually come across this book, now, after 13 years, available in paperback.

Robert Gannon is an academic scholar, but has written a very readable book. Unfortunately, it is not the whole story of torpedoes during World War II. I came to realize this when researching my father's own contribution to Secret (Section T, National Defense Research Committee) research that began in 1943 with the final demise of the Mark 14 torpedo, which had a defective magnetic-influence component. By the end of 1943, this component of the Torpedo Exploder Mechanism was ordered turned off.

The same year, a contract was given to the Applied Research Laboratories at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Washington. My father began working on the project on 8/1/44 through the end of the war, helping to develop, test, and put into service the Mark 9 and Mark 10 torpedo exploder mechanisms, which were used in the Mark 13 air-to-surface TBM Avenger attack on the Japanese Yamoto, sinking it in early 1945. The behemoth battleship was the pride and prize of the Japanese fleet. The Mark 9 Torpedo Exploder Mechanism was designed to detonate under the ship's keel, bypassing the typically well armored sides of battleships of that era.

Hopefully, future histories will include the post-Admiral Lockwood developments in torpedo development in a more clarifying light. Until then, readers should consult The Submarine Review for more up-to-date research on the topic.
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